Ben Carson is doubling down on his theory that the Egyptian pyramids were not built as funerary monuments but in fact were built by the biblical Joseph, when serving as Pharoah’s Prime Minister, to store grain. “It’s still my belief, yes,” Carson told CBS News today in Naples, Florida.
But after this story went live on the site today a number of you wrote in to say that we’d buried the lede. And when I looked again at the story I discovered you were definitely right.
In the course of his explanation, Carson said “And when you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for various reasons. And various of scientists have said, ‘well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how-’ you know, it doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.” (emphasis added).
All religions believe things that can look quite odd or irrational from outside that religious belief. And even though I don’t believe this pyramid theory is a part of Carson’s religion per se, clearly it’s rooted in his fairly intense biblical literalism. But the scientists who argue that the pyramids were built by space aliens? I don’t think religion helps you on this one. Unless you are unable to distinguish between legitimate scientists from quacks in fringe publications or weird paranormal shows on The Discovery Channel I really don’t think any scientists propose that the pyramids were built with knowledge brought down by space aliens.
Except. And this only dawned on me as I was writing this post. Except … And here I had to go back to my childhood, reared by my beloved rationalist father. One of my pop’s pleasures was mocking the endlessly discredited charlatan Erich von Daniken, a former hotel manager and serial fraudster from Switzerland, who managed to become a bestselling author in the late 60s and early 70s with a series of books which claimed that basically ever human achievement from the ancient world – in the Near East, Egypt, the Americas, everywhere – was done with the help of space aliens.
His biggest book, the first, was Chariots of the Gods. You can get some of the flavor here from the wikipedia entry on von Daniken.
Stonehenge, space aliens. Easter Island head figures, space aliens. Pyramids in Egypt and the Americans, space aliens, the Nasca Lines in Peru, space aliens. In their own way, his theories and writing are rather entertaining – much as you might expect from a professional con-man who reinvented himself as an faux archeologist.
In addition to all of his theories being palpable nonsense rejected by everybody with any knowledge of archeology or history of the periods and regions in question, von Daniken also managed to get imprisoned for fraud and admitted to making up various things to make his books more interesting. His melange was a mix of condescending assumptions about people who lived in the distant past, spurious logic, quackery and charlatanism wrapped into a package of vaguely endearing performance art.
For our present purposes though, von Daniken was not a scientist. He was somehow who every scientist with relevant knowledge of the fields in question pointed to as the epitome of a charlatan and a fraudster. I can’t prove it. But given the complete dearth of any actual scientists who believe space aliens built the Egyptian pyramids, I’m pretty sure Carson’s scientist(
s) is none other than Erich von Daniken.
I think this is as I said this afternoon. Carson may have smart hands. But the guy is a bonafide ignoramus. No two ways about it.